For a crazy couple of days last week, it really looked like Cristiano Ronaldo might be heading to Manchester City, arch-rivals and neighbours of the club that helped launch him into superstardom.
Granted, there was a fair degree of scepticism accompanying the story with most people aware that the narrative was largely being driven by the player’s agent, and the media inevitably happy to hype up the chances of it happening in exchange for clicks. Only then reliable reports came through that City were preparing to meet Ronaldo’s representatives. Only then it started to feel distinctly possible.
As one half of social media excitedly debated the merits and madness of this wholly unexpected development, elsewhere it emerged that Real Madrid were aggressively pursuing Kylian Mbappe, with one king’s ransom after another being offered to PSG. In hindsight, it is now known that the Parisian giants never had any intention of relinquishing their phenomenally talented World Cup winner for any sum, even when it reached the ludicrous figure of €200m and despite the striker having less than a year on his contract. Nobody knew this at the time though. At the time, it felt distinctly possible.
Some credit therefore was given to a rumour that was spawned from this power-play between old money and new: that PSG intended to parlay their gains onto Borussia Dortmund to secure Erlind Haaland, eight months prior to a €75m release clause that is set to be triggered at the end of this season. A counter-rumour meanwhile, that was also given some credence, insisted Haaland was not on the French club’s radar at all. Instead, they planned to lure Ronaldo to Ligue 1, to create a fantasy partnership up front with their recent signing Lionel Messi, an astonishing coup back in early August that made headlines around the world and instantly installed PSG as 10/3 favourites to lift the Champions League this season.
Messi and his wife under the Eiffel Tower 🤩
(via LeoMessi/IG) pic.twitter.com/xSDPWPn7Vy
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 31, 2021
This was indeed a crazy couple of days, and frankly it was exactly what the public needed, after enduring the stagnant, will-he-won’t-he Harry Kane to Manchester City saga that seemingly dragged on all summer long. In what appears to be a transfer window tradition these days, one potential move completely dominated the news cycle, ignorant to the fact that interest had long ago faded to virtual apathy, but now that was finally concluded in anticlimactic fashion in its place came genuine fireworks. Every hour brought something new and unexpected. It was box-office.
And just like any good Hollywood blockbuster then came a dramatic twist.
“We’ve always had a good communication. Bruno Fernandes has been talking to him. He knows what we feel about him. If he was ever going to move away from Juventus, he knows we’re here.”
That was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, candidly revealing that Manchester United were in the reckoning now too to secure one of the most prized signatures in sport and this despite whispers they had spurned an open goal to attain him prior to Manchester City’s interest. Appalled at the prospect of their former luminary joining a direct rival, United brought out the big guns, with Sir Alex Ferguson apparently putting in a call. A short burst of negotiations and a £13.5m fee later and the five-time Ballon d’Or winner was back at the club that launched his superstardom.
Looking back on this summer’s transfer window as a whole it can be summarised as one that promised so much yet ultimately delivered little. Naturally, Messi unmooring himself from Barcelona and Ronaldo returning to the Premier League after a 12-year absence are both huge talking points. Yet they can also be viewed as two greats in the twilight of their careers, seeking out a final adventure. Elsewhere, Kane stayed put. Mbappe stayed put. Haaland was always going to terrorise the Bundesliga for one more season. Under harsh lighting, it could be reasoned that an awful lot of speculation led to an awful lot of nothing.
It was incredible to see the reception from the Spurs fans on Sunday and to read some of the messages of support I've had in the last few weeks. 👏⚽
— Harry Kane (@HKane) August 25, 2021
But when we focus attention solely on Manchester a fascinating series of propositions come to the fore that queries the title aspirations of one club and very possibly strengthens the credentials of the other.
That’s because ahead of Ronaldo’s momentous return to Old Trafford, last season’s runners-up had already enjoyed a highly productive transfer window, resolving two long-standing issues and emphatically so by signing Raphael Varane to upgrade their defensive options and finally securing Jadon Sancho to fly down their right wing. These two purchases alone saw them tipped for a serious title charge this term and that was before they lured back one of the most clinical and influential players in world football. Presently United are 5/1 to win their 14th Premier League crown next May and we can expect those odds to tumble should Ronaldo make the significant impact he’s more than capable of.
As for City, the persistent deprival of Sergio Aguero last season to injury necessitated a reconfigured ‘false 9’ model of attack that confounded defences enough to compensate for their prolific hit-man’s absence. Remarkably, Pep Guardiola’s side went on to out-score every one of their peers and all without a recognised specialist centre-forward.
Yet can they do so again, even after further embellishing their creative department with their big-money capture of Jack Grealish? Last term, City had an element of surprise in their favour that has surely now expired, while it can be reasonably argued that for all of their wonderful construction in 2020/21 they sorely lacked a natural finisher in games where chances are at an absolute premium; games that tend to have the highest consequence.
Certainly, this was an issue Guardiola was extremely keen to address. Not for nothing did City ruthlessly and relentless chase the archest practitioner of his craft in Kane and then willingly abandon a long-held transfer strategy by seeking out a 36-year-old former United star.
Manchester City have pulled out of the race to sign Cristiano Ronaldo. They were offered him, considered it, but chose not to move forward.
— Rob Dawson (@RobDawsonESPN) August 27, 2021
Journalist Tom McDermott believes City’s failure to land an established goal-scorer will prove costly but insists the arrival of CR7 to Old Trafford isn’t a cure-all for Solskjaer’s contenders.
“Ronaldo, Sancho and Varane will close the gap on City but both the blue half of Manchester and Chelsea will finish ahead of United in the Premier League. Only when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer adds a defensive central midfielder will United get closer to the title.
I think City’s inability to secure a number nine will again cost them the Champions League and quite possibly the league title.”
Fellow scribe Jordan Elgott meanwhile, points out that greater expectation often comes attached with the signing of a legendary talent.
“Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be desperate to win a trophy this season. Since the Norwegian became United’s permanent manager in December 2018, he has failed to secure silverware. Cristiano Ronaldo may be 36 years old, but alongside the guaranteed goals he will provide this Manchester United side, he adds a ruthless, winning mentality. After leaving United, he won 16 trophies with Real Madrid including four Champions Leagues and helped Juventus to three trophies in his three years with the Italian giants. Solskjaer will be hoping the Portuguese star will help him end his Manchester United duck.
As for Manchester City, it is undoubtedly a concern that they will be tackling the strongest Premier League in recent memory without a star striker. As shown in their two home wins against Norwich and Arsenal — both 5-0 victories — scoring goals won’t generally be a problem in matches they’re expected to win. The difficulties may come, however, against the Premier League’s and Europe’s elite clubs. When they needed to find a big goal out of nothing — Sergio Aguero was their man. Cristiano Ronaldo has done it for all of his clubs throughout his career. Who will step up in this Manchester City side?”
The current champions are 6/5 to retain their league title this season, with or without a proven finisher.